When we went to the discussion between Tanya Harrod and Phyllida Barlow at the Whitechapel Art Gallery about the nature of craft, I had not had an opportunity of reading Tanya Harrod’s excellent and comprehensive anthology of writings on the topic which has been published by the Whitechapel. Over the weekend, I have been grappling with the range of writings, many of them sociological and philosophical, which demonstrate very clearly how comprehensively the boundaries have blurred between the activities of art and craft, which once upon a time, rightly or wrongly, seemed more clearly differentiated: art more obviously about creative freedom in the ways in which materials are manipulated; craft an activity in which manual skills have been creatively applied to, and manipulated, traditional materials, but within inherited boundaries of practice.
One of the essays in the book is by Edmund de Waal, a short one, on attitudes to craft in Black Mountain College, including Anni Albers’s book On Weaving. This was written in 2005, just at the moment he was making the transition from craft to fine art. His work presumably epitomises the shift in categories, having trained as a potter in Canterbury, Sheffield and Japan and initially highly esteeemed, and heavily involved with, the world of the crafts, now migrated into the world of fine art. One could argue that the work is the same, the hand and eye the same, and that all that has happened is a shift in ontological classification. But it is not quite as simple as that because there is a shift also in the way that one judges the work: from viewing it for the quality of its making to seeing it in series; and a difference in the way it is displayed, and, most decidedly, a shift in how much the work costs. Maybe this does mean that the categorisation is in the mind of the viewer as much as that of the maker.